Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Brown's English Tea Room

It is Queen Victoria’s lady-in-waiting, Anna Maria Stanhope, or the Duchess of Bedford, who is said to have started the tradition of afternoon tea in England. She found that a light lunch wasn’t quite enough to get her through to dinner, and by four in the afternoon, she was dying of hunger pangs. There she was, in a situation we all find ourselves in from time to time – ordering her servants to secretly bring her pots of tea and bread to her bed chamber. But then she had a better idea. She invited her friends to join her for five o’clock tea in her rooms at Belvoir Castle. As I always say, if everyone else is doing it, the calories cancel each other out.

Unlike Gwendolen Fairfax, in The Importance of Being Earnest, who complains to Cecily Cardew that there is sugar in her tea and cake on her plate instead of bread-and-butter, the Duchess of Bedford went the whole hog. Her menu was made up of delicate little cakes, a variety of sweets, and bread-and-butter.

Starting from December 2012, Rocco Forte Brown’s Hotel is celebrating a hundred-and-seventy-five years in business. If you are a tourist in London, or if you would just like to get a taste of Victorian England, try The English Tea Room, at Rocco Forte’s Brown’s Hotel on Albemarle Street. You will be in auspicious company. Rudyard Kipling wrote The Jungle Book at Brown’s, and Agatha Christie based her novel At Bertram’s Hotel on Brown’s. But unlike Bertram’s, Brown’s is not too good to be true.

Walk into the wood-panelled rooms of the tea room, that looks like a study on a country estate, with its ceiling relief, decorated architraves and other period features, and enjoy your afternoon tea to the very chilled-out jazz rhythms of their resident musician, who plays at the piano every afternoon and evening. Though the extensive tea menu boasts a de-tox and a champagne option, I would choose the authentic experience and go for the traditional afternoon tea.

Start with choosing from the seventeen teas available on the menu. There is a range of black and green teas, and herbal infusions for the caffeine-free. The personable servers (who look like they are part of a wedding party in their tail-coats) will bring out your tea in silver tea-pots, and then out will come the tiered cake-stand. Now, you might think, how good can sandwiches get? Try the sandwiches at this tea room. That’s how good sandwiches can get. They are miniature finger sandwiches, but you can eat as many platefuls as you like. From chicken, ham, smoked salmon, to avocado, cucumber, and cheese-and-pickle, there’s a variety to suit even the most exacting sandwich connoisseurs.

Just as you are thinking this tea cannot get any better, out will come the freshly-baked scones with a pot-ful of Devonshire clotted cream and strawberry jam. The scones melt in your mouth, and I would diet for a few days before going there, to make up for the large amounts of cream you are inevitably going to consume. If you’re getting full by now, then I would say leave the miniature cakes, and save room instead for the cake trolley. At the end of your meal, your server will bring out a cognac-laced chocolate cake and a Victoria sponge. Try a little of each if you dare. Phew. 

Sustainable City Awards

Livia Firth, the creative director of Eco Age, a consultancy that offers solutions for people who want to think greener and live longer, has gone from a doctorate in film, through making thought-provoking documentaries, all the way to acting as judge at the Sustainable City Awards held at Mansion House on 19 March. Firth - wife of Colin Firth, wearer of sustainable and ethically-sourced red carpet creations, recently nominated a United Nations Leader of change - was a fitting judge for the sustainable business awards that have teamed up with the British Fashion Council in their twelfth year. She handed the best fashion designer award to Fair Trade hat company - yes, a milliners! - Pachacuti.

Pachacuti designer Carry Somers makes hand-blocked hats, and gives colourful twists to classic fedoras and panamas that are specially made for her in Ecuador. Somers's hunt for ethical Fair Trade fashion once found her seven months pregnant and shipwrecked off the coast of Belize, fighting poisonous spiders. As Hagrid would say, "If anyone wanted ter find out some stuff, all they'd have ter do would be ter follow the spiders. That'd lead 'em right! That's all I'm sayin'."

Marks and Spencer walked away with the award for the most ethical high street chain, because of their invention of clothing like the world's most sustainable jacket. The jacket, priced at £349, is made from Australian organic wool, that is dyed and spun in Italy, and then shipped to China for the final stage of production. All the material is ethically sourced, even if their air-miles-per-jacket ratio isn't looking too good. M&S were further commended for their Oxfam shwopping venture, and for keeping Lisa Snowdon in employment. Just kidding.

Thrifty Couture took the award for Overall Winner. The company takes reclaimed clothing to make affordable fashion items. If that's not enough, they give unemployed youngsters from inner-city London apprenticeship training.

Firth could have been an awards contender herself for her Green Carpet Challenge, where she encourages A-list celebs to spend their millions on sustainable fashion choices that are at the same time ethical and glamorous. As she says, "There are no excuses now not to lead a more sustainable life style."

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Top Fashion Trends for 2013

House of Holland

Mary K

Meadham Kirchhoff

Published on The London Word

Top Trends for 2013

I saw someone walking down the street in a Onesie the other day. And by someone, I don’t mean a toddler. I mean a full-fledged, I-should-be-paying-taxes-but-I’m-probably-not kind of adult. And she – for it was a she – was wearing a pink velour Onesie.

Now, I’m broad-minded. I can understand how some people might want to wear, say, trendy tights with sandals. Also, I don’t wear stilettos, but I get that skittering around on eight-inch, pencil-thin heels might be considered sexy by some. I don’t totally get denim with denim, but, okay, I’ll admit that it may have a Village People type of appeal to it.

But a Onesie? For an adult? And not in the comfort of your bedroom, with the lights out, curtains drawn, and while every inch of you is covered with a duvet, but in broad daylight? Out on a street? And not after the Mayan calendar has brought the world to an end? (About that – has anyone considered that they might have run out of paper?)

Anyway, so besides the hopefully-short-lived adult Onesie, what else does 2013 have in store?

Don’t think boring horizontal stripes on a shapeless sweatshirt, the kind your mum wears when she goes to Tesco. Think Henry Holland. His panelled outfits for AW2012 have a strangely organic, yet deeply-digital look about them. They are now available in all their colourful symmetry at Urban Outfitters.

Victorian fashion is always in vogue. All those lovely corsets and hoops, with hip-enhancing bustles and bunches of roses beribboned on to your cleavage. But this year, there are two other historical trends that are centre-stage. The Tudors with their tapestry and frilly collars, and the flappers with their dropped waists and too-cool-for-school head bands.

I know I’ve been harping on about the shorts-suit, but it’s such a cool look. You can try it in hip tweed to wear to the office, or in bubblegum pink with an orange waistcoat a la Gangnam Style. Or, if you’re feeling especially daring, give sequinned hotpants or leather shorts a try.

If 2012 was all about tropical and digi-prints, 2013 may be turning towards a water motif for its prints. So, bring out those aqua colours, seaside prints, and, of course, if you can choose designer wear, try on Ada Zanditon’s obsession with sea horses for size.

By monochrome, I don’t just mean white and black prints. I mean, go the whole hog with Fifty Shades of Grey S&M style, and try white lace and black leather, or white lace and black velvet. Accessorize with leather whips and flatback hair brushes. (Okay, don’t do that.)

You may be getting a little tired of lace dresses – we kind of wore them to death in 2012. But sheer is still in. Sheer arms and shoulders, transparent panels, lacey tights, it all works. If you go the way of Temperley London, in their SS2013 collection, you can get sheer panels with stripes all in the same outfit.

Bare midriffs
I’m not too keen on the waist cut-out look. I prefer the crop top with a long billowing skirt outfit. Or a straight skirt, for that matter, like Rihanna wearing a Miu Miu to the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show 2012. Bare midriffs were all over the SS2013 runways, with Balenciaga taking the lead with crop tops and trousers, ruffle skirts, minis and asymmetric skirts.

Of course, expect all things baby to be on top of the list of trends. Still, no adult Onesies, please!